Peter Bogdanovich introduces The Third Man by mentioning how Carol Reed’s black-and-white photography makes post-war Vienna look preternaturally wet. The light catches the edge of each cobblestone, treachery multiplies along the length of the street, every step a wrong step.

The climactic chase through the Vienna sewers, as well, makes it look as if Vienna had been hit by a monsoon. The water falls in great cascades and winds its way through pipes, channels, passageways. If the city above ground is a ruin, then then the city underground is a maze, an elegant trap from which there is no escape.

But it’s still a sewer. Outside the Vienna Opera House, gilt and filigreed like a carousel, agencies offer tour groups for any number of tastes: the Mozart Tour, the food tour, the World War II tour. The Third Man tour features sites from the movie, with a special excursion into the old sewer system. This is no different, I suppose, than the Philadelphia ghost tours which highlight the cemetery where a scene from The Sixth Sense was filmed. But I don’t recall, however, spirits rising from the toilet to torment Haley Joel Osment.

The Third Man makes the sewers seem almost sanitary. Only one character mentions the smell, but even then, the high arched tunnels make the sewer look like a submerged cathedral. Policemen rappel down and into waterfalls of effluent. People splash in the rivers of liquid. It’s a sewer removed of its scheisse.

Modern-day Vienna still has an underground, of course. In particular: the bathroom near the Opernring announces itself with a jolly yellow sign: Opera Toilet. Mit Musik! Musical notes dance around the words, as if they’d been flushed down from the opera house above. Does the music come piped in for free? Or is there a jukebox inside the loo, vending concertos the way other restrooms sell condoms?

The other bathroom is the only bathroom worth a mention in Rick Steve’s guidebook. It’s down a flight of stairs along the Der Graben, Vienna’s main commercial drag (with translates roughly to “the trench.”) This trench is lined with high-end stores:  Chanel, Hermès, Tiffany’s. People double-fist their shopping bags, store names fanning out like birds during mating season.

This restroom is famous for being designed by Adolf Loos. I wonder if he took it as a challenge: let’s see if I can make something beautiful out of this. And, for the most part, he succeeds: the urinals dividers are sheets of marble; the stall doors are dark, slats of wood with a large milk glass pane, and above each stall, a transom.

But when I went down into the bathroom, there was no mistaking the ultimate function. At one of the far urinals, a man relieved himself. The smell of urine seemed trapped there, underground. Accidental puddles dotted the elaborately-tiled floor. When I took a picture (his, the bathroom’s), he didn’t notice the flash catching the room in light, the way his profile came, momentarily, out of the shadows. Or else, he resolutely ignored it. Austria is, after all, one of history’s great denialists: they convinced the world that Mozart was Austrian and that Hitler was German.

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